Book Review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

jamaica innI just saw the movie, Crimson Peak, about a week ago, and immediately rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble to grab a copy of any Gothic romance I could put my hands on, which is how I ended up with one of Daphne du Maurier’s most memorable works, Jamaica Inn. According to the jacket copy, it was one of three works made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, the others being Rebecca and “The Birds”. I knew about Rebecca, but not the other two.

Daphne du Maurier is considered a master storyteller by many, and an icon of the gothic romance genre. Guillermo del Toro refers to film adaptations of gothic romances such as du Maurier’s Rebecca and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as part of his inspiration for Crimson Peak, and as a writer, I’m hoping to sort of mentally dissect the tropes played out in both the movie and in Jamaica Inn.

There are a million articles all about del Toro and his take on Gothic romance. I don’t think the term was coined yet back in 1936, when du Maurier published Jamaica Inn, but both are chock full of the tropes we associate with that genre today. There must be a sense of foreboding throughout. The atmosphere is grim and bleak right from the beginning. The landscape is part of the sense of horror, and there’s always a big, crumbling mansion full of secrets. And let’s not forget a dark and mysterious stranger who might be a villain, or not, but the heroine is usually drawn to him despite herself.

crimson peakThe thing I really liked about Jamaica Inn is how the heroine, Mary Yellen, is fairly feminist and progressive for her time. She talks about being independent and doing “man’s work” on her farm to make a living. She’s not afraid to be alone or to stand up for herself, which she does fairly frequently. Of course, this is cut down a little by the men treating her as helpless and ignorant, just because she’s a woman, but our plucky heroine often uses this to her advantage, surprising her aggressors. Also, there is actually very little romance in this story. I think the romantic aspects are used as just another thread of tension in the plot. We’re left wondering, as Mary is, if the attractive stranger is worth trusting or not. Mary ultimately decides that she’s better off trusting herself, but she’s led astray and ends up trusting the wrong person, leading to an exciting and harrowing chase scene across the bleak and foggy moors of Cornwall.

If you’ve seen Crimson Peak, then you’ll recognize a lot of the same tropes. The lonely plot of land in windswept England. The big, crumbling mansion. The secrets of the family. And most importantly, the inability of the heroine to trust the man she supposedly loves to keep her safe; a decision that leads her to trust only herself, which almost leads to her downfall. But in the end, no man saves her, and she survives on her own wits and her ability to face her fears. The film is gorgeous and atmospheric, and exactly what you would expect out of a true Gothic romance. I think I’m pretty much hooked on this genre for the moment, and I highly recommend Jamaica Inn if you’re interested in delving into this genre yourself.

Book Review – Planetfall

planetfallThis book is amazing. I’m having trouble finding the words, so bear with me. I’m not even sure I’ve fully digested the book as I’m writing this. Let me begin with a very brief summary.

At some point in the future, humans have left Earth and established a colony on a new planet in a different galaxy. Something traumatic has happened in the colony’s past, but few people actually know the truth of it all, and the story becomes clouded by a newly established religion. There are secrets and betrayals and a deep look into mental illness that I’ve never seen in any other science fiction novel. And when a stranger arrives in the colony, the delicate balance struck by the colonists is shattered.

….

I hate spoilers. And there isn’t much I can say that isn’t going to spoil the book (at least, in my opinion), and I believe everyone should come to this book a blank slate. It should fill you up with wonder, and you should travel the path it takes you down completely uninfluenced. But I also realize that I can’t really write a review without touching on some of the events that transpire. So, go read the book and then come back so we can talk about it.

Ren, the protagonist, is infinitely human and easy to identify with. Her voice feels authentic, and her reactions to the relative isolation of being the only intelligent beings on an empty planet too far from Earth to ever go back resonate. The world building is as precise as I imagine the technology the colonies rely on to be. And so believable. The economy is heavily reliant on implanted chips, 3D printing, colony-wide networks, and recycling, and it feels completely drawn from current trends in technology we’re seeing right now. Everyone selected to be a part of this colony has a very specific skill he or she contributes to the society.

As cool as the tech is, for me, the most important part of this novel is the psychological insight we have on Ren. As we’re drawn deeper into the story, we’re also drawn further into the emotions of Ren and damaging effects certain events have had on her. We learn about her mind just as she’s learning about her mind. And in parallel of this is her exploration of the God city – a seemingly alive structure outside of the colony held in reverence by the colonists. And the end – wow. It will just leave you with so much to think about.

My only criticism is how rushed the end felt, but I read an early copy that I received from the editor back in July, so I’m hoping that gets smoothed out a bit before publication. But even so, this is a beautiful novel, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t collect some award nominations.